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Sports Therapy Vs Physiotherapy - What’s the difference?

We often have clients enquiring whether they need Physiotherapy or Sports Therapy, or saying they can’t see a Sports Therapist as they didn’t get their injury playing a sport. However, both professions are trained and insured to treat musculoskeletal disorders, so most of the time it doesn’t matter who you see, but there are some key differences in their training and approach.

Both Physiotherapists and Sports Therapists are educated in dealing with musculoskeletal disorders (bone, muscle, tendon, ligament and soft tissue injuries), treating pain and injury through hands-on treatment modalities, rehabilitation and patient education. Both focus on restoring, maintaining and maximising movement, relieving pain and increasing quality of life.

Both therapists can:

  • Assess and diagnose injuries

  • Deliver a personalised treatment plan

  • Advise patients how to reduce pain and manage chronic injuries

  • Implement rehabilitation programmes

  • Advise patients how to stay fit and well

Both therapists share treatment methods:

  • Massage

  • Mobilisations

  • Electrotherapy

  • Taping

  • Patient education

  • Exercise rehabilitation


Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and therapists can be classified as a Charted Physiotherapists as a full member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). In order to use the title Physiotherapist, practitioners must graduate from an approved course of study, a three-year degree program, and meet a strict set of criteria set out by the HCPC.

At undergraduate level, Physiotherapists gain the knowledge and skills to improve a range of conditions associated with different systems of the body, such as:

  • Neurological (e.g. stroke, multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s)

  • Musculoskeletal (e.g. back pain, whiplash, sports injuries, arthritis)

  • Cardiovascular (e.g. chronic heart disease, rehabilitation after heart attack)

  • Respiratory (e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis)

Sports Therapy

Sports Therapists are experts in musculoskeletal disorders. They treat pain and injury through hands-on treatment and rehabilitation. Sports Therapists undergo a three-year degree course which focusses primarily on the musculoskeletal system and on restoring, maintaining and maximising movement to relieve pain and increase quality of life and applying this to daily living and/or the patients sporting background.

Key areas of competency of a Graduate Sports Therapist by Society of Sports Therapists

One of the regulating bodies of Sports Therapy is The Society of Sports Therapists (SST), who describes the profession as:

“An aspect of healthcare that is specifically concerned with the prevention of injury and the rehabilitation of the patient back to optimum levels of functional, occupational and sports specific fitness, regardless of age and ability. It utilises the principles of sport and exercise sciences incorporating physiological and pathological processes to prepare the participant for training, competition and where applicable, work.”

The Key Differences

The two professions share many similarities and overlap in their treatment modalities. However, there are some key differences (these are generalisations, some therapist undergo extra training to learn how to treat different conditions or specialise in a specific field):

  • Physiotherapists have a broader knowledge base and medical background, which allows them to treat illnesses, diseases, neurological and respiratory issues. This makes them ideal for treating a wide range of patients, including complex patients with multiple conditions.

  • Sports therapists generally have more exposure to sporting environments at an undergraduate level making them ideal for preventing sports injuries.

  • Physiotherapy attempts to rehabilitate patients to allow them to feel comfortable and cope in their day-to-day life, whereas Sports therapy, on the other hand, focuses more on whether that the patient has returned to or can maintain the required physical level for their daily life or whatever sporting activity they would like to carry out.

  • As Sports Therapists focus solely on musculoskeletal rehabilitation and have a sports-focused background, it makes them attractive to patients who are aiming to return to exercise.

In conclusion:

Sports Therapists specialise in musculoskeletal and sporting injuries (don’t forget some sporting injuries are exactly the same as any other injuries e.g. anyone can roll their ankle or twinge their back!). Physiotherapists have a broader medical background meaning they can also treat musculoskeletal injuries, but they also have knowledge in other areas such as neurological and repiratory disorders.

The takeaway message is if you have a bone, muscle, tendon, ligament or soft tissue injury, you can see either a Physiotherapist or a Sports Therapist. If you have a more complex medical history, then you may be better suited to a Physiotherapist. Yet a Sports Therapist may be better suited to you if you’re wanting a sport specific approach.

However, this is very much generalised. Both Physiotherapists and Sports Therapists undergo continual professional development and can end up specialising in different areas. So if you’re not sure who to see for your injury then contact the clinic and our receptionists can point you in the right direction!

0117 329 2090

By Amy Shephard

March 2022

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